We’ve reached the half way point in the minor league season, which usually means a few things. It means you’ve got new draft picks entering the system, with almost all of those guys going to the short-season leagues. It means you’ve got those short-season leagues starting up. And it means you’re going to start seeing a lot of promotions throughout the minors.
The Pirates saw a lot of promotions over the last few weeks, with ten prospects promoted in the last ten days. That sounds like an MLB Network pre-season segment. Hopefully you’re not reading the rest of this article with a Harold Reynolds voice in your head.
Before the promotions begin, I always see comments about “Promotion Chains”. That’s where people think that a group of players all need to move up at the same time across multiple levels, and that it’s impossible to just move one of those guys. For example, there will be the “Promote Gerrit Cole to the majors, Jameson Taillon to Triple-A, Nick Kingham to Double-A, Tyler Glasnow to high-A”. The common theme there is that you have the top pitching prospects at each level, and you have to move them up all at the same time.
“Promotion Chains” do exist, but they’re not that simple. It’s not always “move the top prospect up”. Instead it’s “move the guy-who-is-ready up”. In some cases that means you see a Gerrit Cole-Stolmy Pimentel-Nick Kingham-Joely Rodriguez chain, which totally ruins the “all of the top pitching prospects moved up at the same time” vibe.
Because the Pirates had so many promotions in the last week and a half, I wanted to look at each “Promotion Chain” and see if there actually was a chain in promotions. I also figure this gives us a chance to recap the promotions after the dust has settled, and look at what the promotions say about each level after the moves have been made.
To Triple-A: Andrew Lambo
To Double-A: Gregory Polanco
To High-A: Stetson Allie
To Low-A: Jordan Steranka
It’s harder to get “Promotion Chains” with hitters because you rarely have a group of hitters at the same position across different levels who are all performing to the point where they can be moved up together. But to make things easier, I’ll refer to this as a chain.
The first transaction in this chain was Lambo going to Indianapolis. I don’t think Polanco was being held back by Lambo, and Allie definitely wasn’t being held back by Polanco, since they play different positions. Lambo, however, was held back by outfielders in Triple-A, and it’s probably not a coincidence that he was moved up right when Alex Presley went to the majors to replace an injured Jose Tabata.
With Polanco and Allie, both moves came at the All-Star break for their leagues (Allie is still in the SAL, but will move up this week). I don’t think it was a chain reaction as much as it was two productive guys moving up at mid-season. The Altoona outfield had Lambo, Mel Rojas, and Alex Dickerson prior to Lambo’s promotion, but even if Lambo was still there, you could have moved him to first base to make room for Polanco. Likewise, Allie is a first baseman, and if you move him up to Bradenton with Polanco still there, you would just move Jose Osuna to right-field or as the DH to create room for Allie. That’s what they will have to do, although they didn’t need Polanco gone to create that outfield/DH spot.
On the tail end of this, Jordan Steranka is just the new guy added to the West Virginia roster. There’s not much significant about that. It’s just a replacement at first base now that Allie is gone. You don’t usually get a top prospect promoted to low-A before the short-season leagues have started. Well, unless you’ve got a top prospect like Luis Heredia just waiting to join the team when extended Spring Training ends. And speaking of that…
To Triple-A: Stolmy Pimentel
To Double-A: Nick Kingham, Eliecer Navarro
To High-A: Joely Rodriguez, Orlando Castro
To Low-A: Luis Heredia
You see more of the “Promotion Chains” with pitchers. There are only five rotation spots, so it is easier for a pitcher to be blocked than a hitter. In some cases you’ve got pitchers on the current roster who are already blocked, so a promotion from one team doesn’t mean a new starter is necessarily coming in from below.
All of these promotions came around the same time, and that’s probably not coincidental. I think the timing of the moves probably has to do with where we are in the season (the half-way point for the five month minor league schedule). But the fact that you have six starting pitching prospects moving in the span of the week isn’t unusual.
The Indianapolis pitching staff has been decimated this year by the injuries at the major league level. We’ve talked about how incredible it is that the Pirates to go through 11 starters this year. The flip side of this is that the Indianapolis rotation has been struggling, with guys like Brooks Brown and the recently acquired Graham Godfrey taking starts. They’ve received some help recently with rehab starts from James McDonald and Jeanmar Gomez. However, from a promotion standpoint, no one is blocking any of the Double-A pitchers. The Pirates can promote guys when they’re ready due to the lack of starters in Triple-A right now. So it’s not likely Stolmy Pimentel was ever blocked.
By extension, Altoona’s pitching staff has also been depleted. They sent Brandon Cumpton to Indianapolis early in the year, then lost Tyler Waldron to an injury. That left the team with Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, and Casey Sadler. Minor league free agents like David Bromberg and Luis Sanz have picked up a lot of innings as a result. So with Pimentel now going up to Triple-A, there wasn’t really a question of whether there was a spot for Nick Kingham or Eliecer Navarro. That was more a situation where the Pirates were just waiting until they felt those guys were ready.
Bradenton is the first stop where you had guys who were blocked. Prior to the promotions of Kingham and Navarro, they made up a rotation that also included Robby Rowland, Adrian Sampson, and Zack Dodson. All three are legit prospects, although they’ve all struggled at times this year. You don’t want to remove any of them from the rotation, so you were pretty much waiting for someone to be promoted before you could bring up guys who were performing in low-A, like Orlando Castro and Joely Rodriguez.
The situation in West Virginia is similar to the hitting chain. You’re just adding guys to fill out the lowest level after everyone moved up. The one difference here is that you’ve got Luis Heredia to take over a rotation spot. Heredia wasn’t in extended Spring Training because West Virginia didn’t have a rotation spot. He was in extended Spring Training because he was out of shape coming into the year, and needed some additional work on his stuff. The conditioning issues probably cost him a month at the level, although he’ll make up for that with innings in the Fall Instructional Leagues.
The other rotation spot in West Virginia will probably go to one of the long relievers at the level. Candidates could include Ryan Hafner, Jason Creasy, and Pat Ludwig. If I had my pick, it would be Hafner. Ludwig is the guy who is stretched out, throwing five innings in a spot start last week. No matter what, all three should be getting a lot of innings, especially with Heredia and Tyler Glasnow restricted to 4-5 innings per start.